I’m going to make a bold claim here. Are you ready? Are you sure? Here it coooomes.
Resident Evil 7 is the best game out in 2017 thus far, bar none. Ha! How do you like them apples?
What? Not bold enough? Okay, okay. Maybe you have a point. After all, it is only February, and RE7 is one of only two big games to be released this year, Nioh being the other one. And since Nioh is an arcadey hack and slash game that has been described as a mix between Ninja Gaiden and the Dark Souls game, I would rather get my fingernails pulled out than suffer through that sort of game. So process of elimination leaves RE7 as the best game of 2017 (so far) by default. It’s like winning a two horse race when the other horse is already in a bag of Alpo somewhere.
Okay, so if my previous statement is a bit of a cheat, let me throw a new bold claim your way: Resident Evil 7 is the most important game of this console generation.
Make no mistake, I’m not claiming this is the best game of this console generation. No, not at all. As long as we still live in a universe where The Witcher 3 exists, I doubt any other game will have that claim. Not to mention the gaming masterpiece My Name Is Mayo.
No, I simply mean that what RE7 does and accomplishes could, and should, send shockwaves throughout the industry, and put the increasingly stagnant publishing companies of AAA games on notice.
Before I go into what I mean by this, let me set the stage by describing the state of Resident Evil before the release of the seventh entry this year. In 2005, Resident Evil 4 was released, and it was a turning point for the franchise. The game took a much more action oriented approach to its survival horror formula, favoring fast paced, chaotic action sequences over the plodding suspense and jump scares of the previous games. The thing was, Resident Evil 4 still had scary moments, and a palpable horror atmoshphere. It didn’t stray from its roots so much that you could have mistaken it for a Call of Duty game. It was just a different kind of scary. If the first Resident Evils resembled a walk through haunted house at a carnival, then Resident Evil 4 was more like a roller coaster.
So Capcom took a risk, and was applauded for it. Resident Evil 4 was insanely well reviewed upon release and many still consider it the pinnacle of the series, a perfect marriage of old school survival horror and modern sensibilities. But then Capcom made a bit of an error.
You know when your friend says a funny joke, and everyone laughs at it, but then the friend runs the joke into the ground, killing it beyond all recognition? Capcom was that friend. It let the success of RE4 go to its head, and it misinterpreted its success as a call for more action in the series. Enter Resident Evil 5, where the series begins its rapid fall from grace.
The canary in the coal mine for RE5 was when there was footage that showed a split screen for local co-op. Surely this was just a weird graphical glitch, right? Most embarrassing for Capcom to release footage with such a glaring technical error and oh god no, that’s real and it’s actually a co-op game.
Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I actually enjoyed Resident Evil 5. I played it twice with two different friends as a couch co-op experience, and it was actually a totally fun game. My problem with it is that, even though it was a good game, it wasn’t a good Resident Evil game. And when you’re playing a Resident Evil game, I expect to, yanno, play a fucking Resident Evil game. Just like when I go to Baskin Robbins I expect ice cream, and when I go to Golden Corral I expect explosive diarrhea; some things are just a given in life.
So I had to admit that I was a little disappointed in Resident Evil 5, especially after the masterpiece that was Resident Evil 4. While Resident Evil 4 certainly skewed more towards the action side of things, it still very much had a Resident Evil feel to it, and had plenty of scenes of expertly crafted tension and suspense. Resident Evil 5 ended with you punching a boulder. The seeds of disconnect were being sewn by Capcom.
And then came Resident Evil 6. Oh boy.
Fans were starting to voice their opinion that they were becoming a little worried about Resident Evil‘s sudden boner for explosions and car chases. Capcom tried to dissuade those fears by releasing an early trailer that featured fan favorite Leon S. Kennedy, shooting the Romero style shambling zombies of yore, as if to say, “Get ready folks, we’re going back to our roots!”
And then they made the mistake of showing the rest of the trailer. And we got to see the promise of classic survival horror was hollow, mere window dressing for another explosion filled extravaganza that was masquerading as a Resident Evil game. The trailer even promised cover based shooting. Cover. Based. SHOOTING. IN A FUCKING RESIDENT EVIL. ARE WE FIGHTING FUCKING PEEK A BOO MONSTERS NOW.
Sigh. And what made it even worse is that the game itself was bad. The franchise’s progression was as follows:
Resident Evil 4: Man, this was amazing! Capcom really did a great job of rebooting the franchise but keeping things familiar!
Resident Evil 5: Well, it’s not a very good Resident Evil game but it’s still an enjoyable game.
Resident Evil 6: Well, it’s not a very good Resident Evil game but it’s shitty too so fuck this game.
Things were not looking good for the series. Sales declined from 5 to 6 and for good reason. Throw in a couple of spin offs, like the multiplayer-centric shooter Umbrella Corps, and it seemed like Capcom had officially gone the way of a senile grandparent, hopelessly out of touch with life but still trying desperately to remain cool by saying words like “fresh” and “hip.”
To make matters worse, is that the rest of the game industry was following suit. There was a distinct lack of good, true survival horror games for pretty much the entire PS3/Xbox 360 generation. The only game that seemed to have any interest in providing a scary, immersive and atmospheric experience was Dead Space and look what fucking happened to that franchise (hint: the exact same thing that happened to Resident Evil).
But, there was hope.
In 2015, Capcom released the beloved Gamecube remake of the original Resident Evil, remastering it for modern consoles. Although there was something comical about remaking a remake, the game was much appreciated by me. I never had the chance to play the Gamecube Resident Evil, and I had always wanted to considering the rave reviews it had gotten over the years. When it was available for download, I immediately purhcased it.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had these feelings. The game was Capcom’s fastest selling digital game ever, and even broken a record on the PSN, being the fastest selling digital day one title in the PSN’s history. Clearly, this game was resonating with people, and soon enough Capcom announced they were going to remaster Resident Evil 0, followed by the Earth shattering news that they were planning on completely remaking Resident Evil 2. Capcom had apparently noticed the hunger for some old school survival horror Resident Evil, and was now about to force feed it down our throat like an old Italian grandmother watching her grandkids, shoving cannoli after cannoli down their gullets.
I wasn’t complaining though. Cannoli is delicious, after all, and survival horror is one of my favorite genres. To make this all even better, the gaming industry in general seemed to notice that there was still very much demand for survival horror, as the indie scene exploded with some great, scary games. Outlast and Slender to name a few, with The Evil Within being a AAA example of a new survival horror game. And of course there was the phenomenon that was P.T., a demo for the now aborted Silent Hills (R.I.P.) that set the internet ablaze with how scary and fucked up it was. Hell, I personally know of three grown men who only lasted ten minutes into P.T. before having to quit, while another friend, who is a Navy fucking SEAL, refused to play it because of what he had seen and heard about it.
When you took a look at this survival horror Renaissance and combined it with Capcom’s sudden commitment to getting the older Resident Evils back into gamers’ lives, it made fans hopeful that Resident Evil 7 would bring the series back into the shadows of actual, honest to goodness horror. But would Capcom actually listen to their fans?
Yes, they sure fucking did.
And here is where I finally come back to the whole god damned point of this article. Resident Evil 7 is the most important game of this console generation because it shows what can happen when a game company takes risks and ACTUALLY LISTENS TO ITS FANS.
Resident Evil 7 takes the franchise to some place old and some place new. We go back to the spooky survival horror of the series’ past, a brand of gameplay that puts more focus on exploration, puzzle solving, and avoiding combat rather than shooting your way through hordes of enemies. The game even brings back locked doors with specifically designed keys that require some backtracking to find and unlock, giving this game an incredible ‘classic’ Resident Evil feel. Is it a little goofy that this dilapidated backwoods Louisiana property has extremely specific locked doors with extremely specific keys, as well as a gauntlet of puzzles you need to solve before you can even go into the front yard? Yeah, probably, but fuck me if this isn’t the Resident Evil we know and love.
But Capcom didn’t just shoehorn this game into the blueprint of the originals and call it a day. They actually took a big chance and gave it a first person view. Gone are the fixed cameras of 1-3 and say goodbye to the over the shoulder perspective of 4-6. You’re now put squarely into the shoes of the protagonist, and you’re going to see all the disgusting gore up close, as if you’re actually there looking at the lovely, mutated Southern family chowing down on a dinner of entrails.
Even I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical of the first person view. When I saw that Resident Evil was aiming to be scary again, I was ecstatic. The first person view, though? Ehh, I was a little worried. Resident Evil had tried first person view before and it never particularly ended well.
But after having played Resident Evil 7, I can’t imagine any future installments in the series going back to 3rd person. The 1st person view makes everything so much more immersive and, thus, more scary. When you’re being chased by a crazy hillbilly with an incredibly deadly shovel, it makes it a much more frantic, pants shitting experience when you actually see him barreling straight down the hall towards you. Similarly, hiding in the corner while he searches the room you’re in is that much more intense when you’re seeing it unfold before you, watching as he gets closer and closer. The switch to first person has, in my opinion, made this the scariest Resident Evil in the series yet.
And this is why this game is, in my opinion, so incredibly important to the industry. Capcom showed some big balls by rebooting one of their most popular franchises, and also showed a good deal of humility by swallowing their pride and admitting that the past couple games in the series have been disappointments for fans. They not only were brave enough to admit fault and reboot the series to borrow from its much older ancestors, but also put a fresh new spin on it as well, making the familiar feel fresh and exciting again.
It’s rare for a game company as big as Capcom to do something like that, and it’s heartening to see it happen, and so successfully at that. This could have positive ramifications throughout the industry. Capcom has officially planted the flag and shown to the rest of the big, AAA publishers and developers out there that if you actually take criticisms to heart and take creative risks rather than stagnate and be content with pumping out the same game every two years, you can make a hell of a good game.
And that’s just what Resident Evil 7 is: a hell of a good game. This entire reboot would have been for naught if it came out and people hated it. That would have been incredibly destructive not just to the series, but to the idea that companies should take risks and reinvent themselves. It would have been every suit in the gaming industry knowingly nodding, going “This is why you’re going to get Call of Duty every year, kids.” But here we are, with a fantastic game in Resident Evil 7, the best the series has offered since the PS2 era. And why? Because Capcom actually bucked up and listened.
Now imagine what could happen when other companies look at this when they start to develop the next big entry in their franchises. Call of Duty had its worst sales in quite a long time this year, showing that series might be in need of a bigger change than just putting the game in outer space and having Jon Snow be the villain. Now Activision can look at Resident Evil 7 as proof that, hey, maybe we can adjust our formula a bit and put some life into the series! Bethesda has received some criticism for Fallout 4, with many noting that, while it’s certainly still a good game, the tried and true Bethesda open world RPG model is honestly starting to feel a little stale. When development on Elder Scrolls VI starts to get going, I sincerely hope that they see Capcom’s leaps of faith with Resident Evil 7 and put it towards evolving not just their series, but the genre in general. And of course, there is the Final Fantasy series, which is probably the new Resident Evil in terms of a series that has fans crying for the game to go back to its roots, with the developers responding, “New phone, who dis?”
Square Enix’s defense of this is even eerily similar to Capcom’s when people questioned the direction of Resident Evil. When people asked where the survival horror and the scares went, Capcom would say things that indicated that they believed survival horror was dead and that the modern gamer has no patience for a slower, more deliberately paced genre, despite no evidence supporting this. Square Enix essentially says the same things, saying turn based strategy and role playing games have gone the way of the dodo, despite games like XCOM and The Banner Saga becoming cult classics seemingly overnight. I truly believe if Final Fantasy LI, or whatever the fuck number they’re on, went back to a more turn based, strategic combat system, more reminiscent of earlier entries, that it would be the best reviewed Final Fantasy since IX or X. Instead, we get relative disappointment after relative disappointment.
Those excuses can end here though, and we can thank Resident Evil 7 for that. No longer can companies hide behind buzz words like “bottom line” and “trends”, holding pictures of graphs trying to prove their points that gamers want certain things, despite the gaming communities saying, quite literally, the opposite. Resident Evil 7 shows that if you trust your fans, and if you go back to what you know and what you do best (in Capcom’s case, scaring the poo out of you), then you can make not just a great game, but a reason to be excited about your franchise. And that’s why, despite the fact that this game involves a boss fight where you’re battling against a giant centipede woman, this is an incredibly important game for this day and age.